Look, we are all suffering from cabin fever and looking for an outlet for all this anxiety, but don’t take it out on the shrubbery. Yesterday a friend mentioned that she had been cleaning up the yard, pruning back the dead wood . . . at least I think it was dead.
My heart sank but I bit my tongue. At this time of year it is not always clear to casual gardeners what is dead and what isn’t.
Here’s the thing: If you can’t name the shrub or tree that you are pruning, you should probably set the tools aside and go online for info. Better still, buy a book. You know how disgusted we all are with the death of expertise? Well, library shelves groan under the weight of gardening books devoted entirely to pruning. It is a science and an art and you can’t just figure it out.
An ill-timed pruning won’t harm the plant in question, but you may be cutting off the spring flowers we’ve been waiting for all winter! Spring blooming shrubs — azaleas, lilacs, bridal veil spirea, forsythia — bloom on last year’s wood. The proper time for pruning these is right after they bloom.
A natural shape and habit is the most aesthetically pleasing in a well designed landscape. No lollipops and poodle trees!
Seen here are loppers, pruners, and a limb saw, all tools for properly removing branches. (Hedge shears are for shearing hedges only.) These red-handled pruners are Felco #2 . . . the gold standard. They are the last pruners you will ever need; every individual part is replaceable. The blade holds an edge and can be resharpened. Beautiful design, good balance.
(Movie fans may remember the 1996 Wachowski film “Bound,” with Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly, which features a Felco in a non-gardening cameo.)
[Thank you commenter! I have corrected my spelling mistake for clarity.]